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I’m the Man in the Box

Since this is my last post (and an unnecessary one, I realized, since I posted entries with my YouTube curation project & my expertise assignment), I decided to go outside my Audioslave box and go with an Alice in Chains-titled entry; the song just happens to be entitled “Man in the Box.”

Anyway, enough BS’ing.  To be perfectly blunt, I did not like “Super Sad True Love Story.”  At all.  In fact, I was turned off from it at the very beginning.  I read the first 3-5 pages of the book and after reading Lenny write “I’m going to live forever because I met a woman.  Fuck you all.” (in essence, at least), I disliked him through the rest of the book.  And after meeting Eunice, I didn’t like her, either.  I think part of my problem with the book starts at the very beginning: the world we see in the novel is rather different than ours.  Normally, I have no problem with this (I mean, srsly, if I can play games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow & the two Mass Effect games and be cool with those worlds, I have no problem with fictional worlds), but my issue is that Shteyngart doesn’t establish this world at the very beginning.  So, to read about Lenny peddling immortality (like the Pardoner in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales selling holy “relics”) is, to me, absurd.  Last I checked, nothing was eternal, not even the universe since, because of its expansion & future acceleration of expansion, it will eventually tear itself apart (this is called the Big Rip, if I remember right).  But, don’t worry about the Big Rip; that won’t happen for another at least 15 billion years.

However, I digress.  My point here is that the world in Shteyngart’s novel is not introduced to us; we’re dropped into the novel in medias res.  Again, I have no problem with walking into a story in medias res…so long as the world is eventually explained.  My memory may be fuzzy since I read the book a few days ago (thanks, real life, for messing me up), but I don’t remember the world really being established except being given the context through events in the story.  As an example, we see Lenny in the opening ‘chapter’ at the American Embassy in Roma, going through the whole thing with the otter (I don’t remember what the program was called); through this event, we see that the America of this book’s world places a high value on credit score (economies blow, apparently) in addition to being concerned with who citizens abroad associate with…or who they associate with, in general.  Thinking in terms of Ryan’s definition of narrative (we keep coming back to her, don’t we?), can we really say that Shteyngart establishes a world that undergoes changes either by accident or by direct human action?

That question is something we can discuss tomorrow night.  I’ll try and get comments posted by tonight and if not tonight, then before class tomorrow.  Anyway, this blog was rather fun; I might keep updating this every now-and-then.  So, until next time!

I can’t walk away yet, won’t even try

As of my writing this, I’ve only read Important Artifacts; I haven’t gotten to the secondary reading just yet (I literally have been home from work less than an hour).  I’m gonna try and get to that tomorrow after work.  Anyway…enough bullshitting.

So…Important ArtifactsImportant Artifacts was an interesting experience, especially considering I’m about up to my neck in thinking about narrative.  So, going into Important Artifacts, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I do have to say that the execution of it is ingenious and unconventional.  The book is certainly a departure from forms of storytelling that I’m used to, but it was certainly a refreshing change.  The main storytelling mode, the exhibition/description of objects, is something that I find intriguing.  Last night, as I was reading it, I kept thinking about all of the stories my belongings could tell if they could speak.  I related it to a scene in Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King where the player/hero meets a character who learns of the journey the player & his party have been on by (magically, of course) examining the hero’s feet.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I often attach a lot of sentimentality to my belongings and feel a strong connection with that stuff.  Every now-and-then, just like last night, I wonder about the stories my stuff could tell.  Anyway, enough sentimentality.  It’s kinda dredging up bad memories.  Moving on!

So, something I was thinking about regarding Important Artifacts is whether or not the book could be considered a narrative.  As I said, Important Artifacts goes about telling a story through pictures & descriptions of objects and tidbits of messages between Hal and Lenore, like emails and notes written on playbills.  I would say that the book could be considered a narrative, but very conditionally.  What really tells the story is the descriptions, the captions and the messages between Hal & Lenore.  If those weren’t there, the story wouldn’t be there, either.  That being said, though, if we didn’t have the pictures, but the captions & messages remained, the story would be somewhat confusing; but, thanks to our imaginations, it could still work since we could visualize what was being described.

But, back to my main thought: I would consider Important Artifacts a narrative.  Again, the status of it being a narrative is dependent on the symbiotic relationship between the pictures & captions.  Kinda goes back to Chaos Theory and the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, doesn’t it?  But, that’s my thought experiment for the time being.  I’m rather tired and I can’t quite think straight.  I’ll probably come back & edit this tomorrow night, along with posting comments.

(P.S. The title of this post comes from the Audioslave song “Drown Me Slowly.”)

Looking at the Sandbox from the Outside

So, prior to class, I wanted to give my own personal thoughts on Facade and Wardrip-Fruin, but primarily Facade.

Admittedly, I am a gamer and prior to this class, I only knew Facade as a song from the Jekyll & Hyde musical I did when I was in high school (yeah, I did a bit of musical theater).  And after playing Facade several times and after reading Wardrip-Fruin, I’m disappointed in it.  After reading several blog posts from our classmates, that seems to be the relative consensus.  I’m more of a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” gamer and I don’t always read instructions before playing (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect).  So, when I started playing Facade, I was somewhat disoriented, mainly because I didn’t know entirely what to do (I did pick up quickly that I could move & interact with the environment).  Talking with Trip & Grace, though, I didn’t gather until later in my first play-through, where I got annoyed and said, “You guys are dicks.  I’m going home.  kthxbai”

On my second (and subsequent) play-throughs, I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of speech recognition by the game engine.  I typed in clear, correct & concise language, but for example, if I asked, “Are you happy?”, Trip or Grace would respond with, “Josh, are you trying to say I’m depressed?!” (Yes, I used the name Josh because Steve wasn’t one listed.  Assholes.)  There seemed to be an inherent flaw in the recognition portion of the “game,” which Wardrip-Fruin discussed in Chapter 8.  While Facade is certainly an interesting concept, it’s flawed in that it can’t understand accurately everything that’s typed at it.  It’s disconcerting when, as a player, I’m really trying to help these two NPCs, but the programming misinterprets what I say.

That being said, it certainly was fun doing play-throughs of Facade in what I’m going to call “Fun Mode.”  For one playthrough, I decided that I was going to play as Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond.  It actually was pretty funny since my character was flirting with Grace and making her incredibly uncomfortable while making Trip very angry.  If I remember right, Trip walked out on that playthrough.

Would I consider Facade a game?  In the strictest of terms, no.  If a game is defined as having a set story and path that the player follows with a clear goal in mind, then Facade doesn’t fit the bill.  It’s more of a simulation than anything.  And speaking of simulations, I love playing SimCity.  Granted, I cheat at it and give myself practically unlimited money, it’s still fun to play, as evidenced by my pictures of it in my expertise post.  But, I digress.  The idea of being able to interact with the characters in Facade is a really cool aspect, but it’s executed much better in games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect where the choices lead the player clearly towards a different direction.  So, that’s about all I have.  I’m still sorta burned out from my expertise assignment.  I may or may not get to comments.  Sorry if I don’t.  Until next week!

Playing in the Sandbox: SimCity, The Sims, and Facade

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, in the two chapters for this Monday, covers a lot of stuff, from systems & audience perception to discussing games like SimCity, The Sims, and Façade, with all of the complications of systems that go along with them.  So, there’s a lot to cover and I’ll try and make some of this brief.

The Introduction to Wardrip-Fruin’s book, Expressive Processing, deals primarily with computers and the systems involved with them.  It’s also in this Introduction that Wardip-Fruin lays out the purpose of his book: to bring to light what other books on digital media ignore, which are “the actual processes that make digital media work, the computational machines that make digital media possible” (3).  Wardip-Fruin wants to bridge the gap between previous works which focuses on the output of computers and the processes behind digital media through the notion of “expressive processing.”  For Wardrip-Fruin, “expressive processing” is meant to evoke two things about processes: the first is that “computational processes are an increasingly significant means of expression for authors.  Rather than defining the sequence of words for a book or images for a film, today’s authors are increasingly defining the rules for system behavior” (3);  secondly, he uses the term “to talk about what processes express in their design – which may not be visible to audiences” (4).

Wardrip-Fruin then goes on to discuss the authoring of new processes in digital media, particularly in the relationship between data (all the stored information, pictures, etc.) & processes (the working parts, like showing a series of images on a screen), adding the surface, through which the audience experiences the data & processes, and also audience interaction, which Wardrip-Fruin defines as “a change to the state of the work  – for which the work was designed – that comes from outside the work” (7-11).  After discussing these systems, Wardrip-Fruin goes on to discuss “operational logics,” which he describes as patterns in the interplay between data, process, surface, interaction, author, and audience, going on to describe three effects that arise “in the relationship between system processes and audience experiences”: the Eliza effect (“audience expectations allow a system to appear much more complex on the surface than is supported by its underlying structure”), the Tail-Spin effect (“works that fail to represent their internal system richness on their surfaces”) and (my favorite) the SimCity effect (“systems that shape their surface experience to enable the audience to build up an understanding of their internal structure”) (13-16).

So, to move on to SimCity and the SimCity effect, let’s start with a basic overview of what SimCity is.  SimCity is a simulation game where the player is a mayor of a city and the goal is to build up the city; in terms of process, it’s about “learning to understand the system’s operations” (300).  In contrast to the Eliza effect, the SimCity effect has “elements presented on the surface [that] have analogues within the internal processes and data.  Successful play requires understanding how initial expectation differs from system operation, incrementally building a model of the system’s internal processes based on experimentation” (302).  The Sims follows a similar concept, but instead of focusing on a city, the player focuses on individual people and their interactions with other Sims and their environment.  In short, regarding The Sims, “it succeeds in being an experience about human beings in familiar situations because it communicates on its surface precisely the simplicity of its processes and data.  It succeeds through the SimCity effect” (316).

At this point, Wardrip-Fruin moves on to discuss OzOz, unlike everything else up to this point, doesn’t deal with computers; instead, it focuses on interactive drama, “carried out with a human director and actors, but aimed at understanding the requirements for software-driven systems” (317).  This basically lays the groundwork for Façade since the Oz project establishes a drama that’s interactive with a user-character and NPCs that have some autonomy and flexibility, along with the ability to interact with one another and their environment, as well as the user-character.

So.  Façade.  There’s a good amount to say regarding Façade, but I’m going to try and keep it somewhat brief.  One of the things that makes Façade successful as an interactive fiction is its dramatic pacing with its “beats,” basically a dramatic shift based on something a character says or does.  In Façade, this can be something very simple, like choosing between whether to have a fancy mixed drink with Trip or something simple that Grace suggests, like water.  Also, the characters are dynamic, something that is based heavily on the Oz project, since the characters (Trip & Grace) interact heavily with the player-character and their actions/responses depend largely on what the player-character says and does.  Language, really, is the key with Façade since it is through language (not just written, but spoken) that the characters interact & react to what is happening.  Their responses are not scripted to follow a certain sequence of events, but are able to adapt to the context of what’s being said & done.

Well, unfortunately, I’m over the word limit, but Façade represents something fascinating since the game expands on the possibilities of A.I. in games.  NPCs are able to become autonomous in their digital environments, no longer constrained by having scripted actions & responses; they can be aware of their surroundings and adapt/respond accordingly.  This is cool stuff.

 

Additional Images…of SimCity, because I felt like it!  Not to mention, not everyone may know what SimCity is or how it works.

OMG its the title screen!!!

I enjoy random city names.

Hard Mode - Activated

 

In the Beginning (of Lolwut), there was nothing

Lolwut - The Beginning Sections

And now, a different (and better!) city with little crime

I do an awesome job as mayor.

My cities also hemorrage money like no tomorrow.

I build a lot.

Hey, it's Mr. Wright! (P.S. I hate pollution...)


I walk the streets of Japan ’till I get lost ’cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

I apologize for the longer-ish title, but ’bout a week ago, I picked up Audioslave’s album “Out of Exile” and the lyrics to the song “Doesn’t Remind Me” really stuck with me, especially considering what we talked about this past Monday in class about looking at things more deeply and analytically rather than associatively, which is something I’m incredibly guilty of.  So, this is my attempt at trying to put the associative thought process of mine aside and just go straight analytical.

To start with, though, I do have a confession: as of my writing this, I have yet to finish Season 2 of “Dollhouse” (I finished Episode 8, but I haven’t watched the rest), nor have I read the secondary article; I did, however, re-read the comics (since I read them last week).  What I really want to focus on right now is what I was discussing in class on Monday about Affect and how it relates to Topher, especially considering we see a whole new side of him in the first few episodes of Season 2.  One thing I remember discussing on Monday was Topher’s conscience, or lack thereof.  I forget which episode it is, but we do see that Topher does have a conscience: in the episode where DeWitt was basically forced to put Sierra/Priya into captivity with the man who drugged her and constantly had engagements with her, Topher is incredibly reluctant to do so.  Part of the reason why Topher finally does imprint Priya back into Sierra is because Langton and DeWitt are forcing him to.  Topher asks (if I remember correctly), “Do I have a choice?”  DeWitt responded that he didn’t.  The fact Topher questions the order given by DeWitt in my mind proves that he thinks it’s a bad idea to put Sierra or any active into that situation.  Granted, yes, Topher is still manipulating the actives because he’s in charge of the chair and they’re basically his “toys”, but he does have feelings towards them and doesn’t want to see them get hurt or put into a position where they may suffer needlessly.

In addition to this aspect of Topher, we also see how Topher lives; to be honest, it was somewhat depressing to see that.  I empathized with him that much more because of the pity I felt.  He sleeps on a cot in the server room with his belongings strewn about the room.  Again, I felt bad for him because he had to live in those conditions.  Does he deserve this?  He might because of his treatment towards the actives and his being complicit with what’s being done towards them.  I’d argue that while he deserves some of what he gets, he doesn’t deserve all of it.

To relate what I’ve discussed here with something else we’ve covered thus far in the semester, the best example I can think of is Powers’ character in Galatea 2.2.  Powers is sort of like Topher with Helen in that Powers has the best of intentions with Helen and tries to protect her, but in the end, destroys her or, more accurately, causes Helen to commit digital suicide.  It’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but it’s the best connection I can make.

Right now, that’s about all I’ve got for this.  There’s a lot more that I could write about in thinking of humans as machines/databases (it’d get really weird and Commander Shepard from Mass Effect would show up, along with The Matrix and “Dollhouse”), but that’s for another time.  Until next time.

Black hole sun, won’t you come and wash away the rain?

Okay, so.  As of my writing this, I’m still in the process of watching Dollhouse (I’m up to Episode 11, “Briar Rose,” so I haven’t finished it yet), I haven’t read the comics nor have I done the other readings.  I apologize for that since…well…I blame Batman, EVE Online and also SMTown (thank you, South Korea, for all the pop music).  But!  I do want to give some thoughts regarding what I’ve watched in Dollhouse so far.  Also, this title comes from the Soundgarden song entitled “Black Hole Sun,” just so you know.

Anyway, so here I go about Dollhouse.  I tweeted not all that long ago that Dollhouse really reminded me of the anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.”  In one respect, Dollhouse also reminds me of EVE Online, but I’ll get to that.  The way I’m reminded of GitS is because of the fact that the dolls are essentially prosthetic bodies, just like the cyborgs in GitS.  Granted, the cyborgs in GitS have their own souls, or “ghosts,” implanted within them (basically, their souls taken from their previous bodies), but the principle is basically the same: the dolls are implanted with a certain set of characteristics that constitute their soul and can be implanted with other souls as necessary to fit the situation.

In a way, Dollhouse also reminds me somewhat of the Geth from the game series “Mass Effect.”  I think I’ve explained before that the Geth were originally robotic servants with no autonomy, but were eventually given some autonomy until they became sentient and rebelled against their Quarian masters.  The connection I made with Dollhouse is that we see Echo, who’s supposed to have no autonomy, gradually gaining autonomy through her recollection of past memories.  In a sense, I’m also reminded somewhat of the game “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” where almost all of the soldiers implanted with nanomachines (excluding Snake, of course) have all their memories suppressed, but once the nanomachines go offline (or if they’re messed with by Liquid), all those memories (and associated emotions) come flooding back.  It’s pretty heavy stuff, thinking about it.

Of course, before Echo, there was Alpha, who gained his autonomy and, like the soldiers in MGS4 once the nanomachines are gone, went berserk, killing and injuring numerous people in the dollhouse before escaping.  I’d be interested to see what happens with Echo later on in the series (I plan on finishing it after I post this entry).

So, how does this relate to EVE Online a.k.a Internet Spaceships?  Well…the game is set about 20,000 years in the future where human cloning is possible, and to add to that, widespread and commonplace.  Should the player’s ship and capsule (which contains the player’s “body”) be destroyed, a clone is activated that has the same personality & skills as the previous clone.  There’s a skill that allows the transferring of the player’s consciousness to another clone (called a jump clone), which is what really reminded me of Dollhouse.  Being able to transplant one’s consciousness to another body is fascinating.  I think it was Episode 9 or 10 that really explored this, as well as part of Episode 11 with Dominic’s consciousness being implanted in Victor’s body.

For now, that’s about all I’ve got.  And for those curious, the names of the dolls are after the NATO alphabet.  Here’s what I remember of it: A = Alpha, B = Beta, C = Charlie, D = Delta, E = Echo, F = Foxtrot, G = Gulf, H = Hotel, I = Igloo, J = ?, K = Kilo, L = Lima, M = Mike, N = November, O = October, P = ?, Q = Quebec, R = Romeo, S = Sierra, T = Tango, U = Uniform, V = Victor, W = Whiskey, X = X-ray (or Xavier), Y = Yankee, Z = Zulu.  I only forgot 2…not too bad.

YouTube: It is neither You nor a Tube. Discuss.

To begin with, this curation project focuses on Chapter 4 in Burgess & Green’s book, “YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture”, which deals with YouTube as a social network; the group was comprised of myself (Steve), Margaret and Tony P.

When we think social networking, YouTube isn’t the first medium we think of.  YouTube is just a site where people can share videos, right?  Well, not exactly.  There is, to an extent, a form of social networking going on where “the video content itself is the main vehicle for communication and the main indicator of social clustering” (Burgess & Green 58).  In essence, the video itself serves as the forum where “through their many activities – uploading, viewing, discussing, and collaborating – the YouTube community forms a network of creative practice” (Burgess & Green 61).  However, to be a member of this community, one must first be digitally literate (i.e. have knowledge as to how to record the video, edit it, etc.) to post their videos and participate in the community.  Though, there are varying degrees of digital literacy: one user could simply upload a video from their phone while another can use complex editing techniques.   To be effective/popular, though, the user must be not only proficient in these skills, but must be able to handle them very well.

This video is one from a YouTube & internet celebrity, the Angry Video Game Nerd.  Using vlogging, he appeals to a certain audience and mocks failed traditional media.

The above video is an example of a user who uses many complex techniques in creating his videos with a lot of effort going into them (see Additional Links for more).  Collaborative videos can be just as invested with creative capital, drawing on the creative/artistic talents of the contributors, and can be just as successful.  Even though the structure of YouTube’s network doesn’t necessarily promote collaboration, users can find ways to work together with their fellow YouTube users.

The above video is not only an example of a video invested with creative capital (musical talent), but is a prime example of a collaboration of users who worked around the difficulties of collaborative work inherent in YouTube’s structure.  Not only is the user (docjazz4) responsible for bridging the gap between other users, he also has instructional videos (teaching other users how to play the ocarina) and also performs in concerts, giving him a stake in gaining YouTube recognition.

YouTube is not only just a medium of social networking, but can also be a medium for social change.  Activists can use YouTube (without need digital literacy) to promote a cause.  The more a video gets replayed and travels around the community, the more people can get involved, motivated and passionate about something.

This video is an example of something that can be used for social change; this is taken from the Iranian election protest in 2009.  The victim was shot and died on film, becoming a symbol for the opposition to President Ahmadinejad’s election.  Many major news networks, such as CBS and CNN, have used YouTube to help publicize certain issues; this one is a prime example.  YouTube is not just part of the internet, but also has become a major part of mainstream media.  How better to publicize something and garner attention to it than make it publicly available where it can be spread easily?

Similar to the previous video, this is also an example of a video being used for social change.  This speech has been used by the protestors of Occupy Wall Street (and related groups) as a message that best idealizes the goals of the protestors.

In an attempt to summarize this chapter, the social networking aspect of YouTube isn’t limited strictly to posting & sharing videos (and collaborating with others) between users; YouTube can be seen as a medium for social change where the network allows for easy transmission of ideas.  By circulating through the network repeatedly, not only will more people be informed, but also become more motivated and passionate about a cause, particularly if a celebrity is the voice.  An example of this is Zachary Quinto and “It Gets Better”: Quinto came out in honor of a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide after being harassed over his sexuality.  Also in the case of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as was previously written, Charlie Chaplin’s speech has become a powerful message of social change.  By circulating through not just the internet but the mainstream media, this video has become an icon for the Occupy Wall Street movement.  While YouTube is still a video-sharing website where people post videos (courtesy of their varying degrees of digital literacy), YouTube isn’t strictly limited to this; people can use YouTube for just about any purpose…providing, of course, they have the digital literacy to do so.

And one last video to really emphasize that people can use YouTube for anything:

Additional links:

http://www.gametrailers.com/video/the-making-screwattack/717056

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/16/showbiz/zachary-quinto-gay/index.html